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Strictly Come Dancing 2022 first live show: Helen Skelton tops the standings with American smooth

And we’re off! Hot on the heels of Friday night’s delayed launch show, our 2022 Strictly Come Dancing pairs are already performing their first competitive dance. The good news is that even if they have a dance disaaaahster, nobody is going home in week 1 – we don’t have a Sunday results show until next week.

But the judges’ scores from this opening dance will roll over (and, although there’s no public vote yet, viewers will start forming their own judgements), so there’s definitely still pressure on our fledging Fred ‘n’ Gingers. Join us tonight at 6:45pm on BBC One to see who makes a good first impression and who is already quickstepping towards the exit.

It’s a dance lottery

Early seasons of Strictly saw a slightly tedious, but arguably fairer, system where the early dances were always the more straightforward technically – like the cha cha cha or the waltz, with their comparatively simple rhythms. Nowadays, it’s a wild pick ‘n’ mix of styles. Our 2022 couples have, between them, on week 1: the cha cha, quickstep, samba, tango, jive, foxtrot, and American smooth. The latter, danced by both Helen Skelton and Taylor West, adding lifts to the equation right away.

Although that challenge can be an advantage, if you can master a tricky style right from the off and separate yourself from this giant pack of 15 couples. At this stage, the most difficult part is arguably just being memorable enough so that the audience picks up the phone for you. Making a splash – even if it’s for the wrong reasons – is crucial.

You’d better get the party started

Music choices can help enormously too, and we’ve got a fab-u-lous retro playlist in store tonight. Think Wham, ABBA, Aretha, Christina Aguilera, Dolly Parton, the Village People, Ricky Martin, and that life-affirming anthem from La Cage aux Folles, I Am What I Am. Thank you to Ellie Taylor and Johannes Radebe for that. Strictly is always at its best when it embraces its innate cheesiness.

Speaking of which… We kicked off with a fab-u-lously camp introductory number from our pros, featuring feathered headdresses, bongos, streamers and an alarming amount of banana-yellow trousers. We also got some telling cameos from our judges: Motsi Mabuse, life of the party; Shirley Ballas, executing perfect samba rolls; Craig Revel Horwood, giving us all the hip action; Anton Du Beke, giving us none. Strictly is back!

Who can survive the jive?

On learning she would be starting with jive, Kym Marsh had an understandable response: “That terrifies me.” Equally panicked: partner Graziano Di Prima when he had to meet approximately 300 members of Marsh’s family. Her reticence carried over into a sluggish jive (danced to Merry Clayton’s Yes; really more of a ‘maybe’) to open the show, and she needs to spot on her turns – but potential here, as head judge Shirley Ballas noted. Craig Revel Horwood drew boos by demanding more energy, though praised Marsh’s arabesque, and Motsi Mabuse suggested selling it more. A decent 23/40, with a 7 from Anton Du Beke.

James Bye had the opposite problem: he started strong but got lost partway through the routine and made so many mistakes that he stopped dancing altogether. Revel Horwood and Ballas both suggested breathing and trying to dance with ease, instead of evident panic, which might come once he gets out of his head and…well, remembers his routine. But the scores were pretty decent in the end: 22 points, with a 6 from Revel Horwood. “Is Craig OK?!” gasped Bye’s partner Amy Dowden.

The same-sex pairs start strong

Our all-female pair, Jayde Adams and Karen Hauer, definitely kicked things up a gear with their booty-shaking, shimmy-heavy, full-throttle samba to Christina Aguilera’s Dirrty – and earned a big standing ovation. No need for Mabuse to tell anyone to sell it here. Revel Horwood pointed out the lack of bounce action, but praised Adams’s musicality. Ballas loved the attitude, though agreed it was too flat-footed, with rogue heel leads (not allowed in the Latin dances). Still, it’s clear Adams knows how to entertain, and she matched Marsh’s score of 23. If she can work on her technique, she could be a real force.

Richie Anderson and Giovanni Pernice also made an impact with their gloriously camp cha cha cha to Wham!’s I’m Your Man – complete with Anderson in tight white trousers and a “Choose Dance” T-shirt. “I loved every second of it,” exclaimed Du Beke (well, other than Anderson’s iffy timing). “I thought I was on RuPaul’s Drag Race, darling,” drawled Revel Horwood. Shantay, you stay! Another 23 from the judges.

Skelton hits the top spot with her American smooth

Dianne Buswell wasn’t holding back, handing Tyler West some big lifts in their American smooth – while absolutely tempting fate by dancing to Falling by Harry Styles. In the event, the lifts were the strongest part of this contemporary-flavoured routine, which was distinctly lacking in actual ballroom technique. (Get used to this grumble from me – it will be a weekly occurrence.) Revel Horwood duly labelled it “pedestrian”, with sloppy footwork, but Mabuse enjoyed the emotion and trust in their partnership. A score of 21, with some confusion because Ballas accidentally registered a 6 on the computer but held up a 7 paddle. The joys of live television!

Helen Skelton and Gorka Marquez went more traditional with their gorgeous smooth, set to Aretha Franklin’s You Send Me, which actually had some properly danced foxtrot in it. The were lovely Fred ‘n’ Ginger-style open sections as well, showing Skelton’s musicality and confidence on her own, as well as in hold – which bodes very well indeed. Revel Horwood praised her elegance, Mabuse loved her posture (just raise the eye level), and Ballas loved how she sat in the pocket of the music. Du Beke liked her line – she just needs to own it. Once she gets that self-belief, Skelton is surely the one to beat. A super 26 from the judges, topping the leaderboard so far.
 

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